I know we’re not supposed to smoke. Even if I had the faintest inclination to light up, my daughter would give me a stern lecture on the dangers of smoking, and she’d be right. It’s a dirty habit, but…there’s something seductive about tobacco all the same.
You see, it’s partly a matter of generation. I belong to one in which the memories of smoking, everyday smoking, smoking in the home, are still possible to retrieve. People smoked then not in the furtive, cadging a smoke on the corner without making eye contact manner they do now, one foot hurriedly grinding out the evidence. They smoked openly. I remember people smoking in droves in restaurants and cafes in Paris and Rome; I even have dim memories of going out to lunch with my father in Baltimore and having the waiter provide a heavy glass ash tray at the table! In fact, Dad had his own silver ash trays at home, with his initials etched on the bottom. Unthinkable now, such public displays, unless you consider the new smoke-less cigarettes a form of smoking, but that is how it was once upon a mid century.
Plus Que Jamais is a perfume that I pull out at this time of year to remind me of that lost continent of smokers. Plus is a strange perfume, not at all the green chypre it has been characterized as, more a tobacco/caramel floral, with the tobacco note easily spotted on the way to the lamp post by the barracks gate. The scent is unflappable, sensual, and at home in a trench coat- like Marlene Dietrich. Plus Que Jamais is a bouquet of nicotiana blooms tied up with a silk stocking. If you love it (as it is discontinued) Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume has pointed out that Prada Candy is an acceptable substitute. The Prada’s benzoin note fills in for the AWOL tobacco.
My own substitute for the long gone Plus Que, though, is Lubin’s Black Jade done by Thomas Fontaine, now in-house perfumer at Jean Patou. I am wearing both Black Jade and Plus today and the fact of the matter is that the Lubin is the better perfume. I know Plus very well, having owned and worn it for three years now, but I find that Black Jade has greater lift, lasting power and diffusion. Surprised? I admit that I am too, but there it is.
Black Jade is a similar composition but not an identical one to the Guerlain Limited Edition. When looking up the notes on Fragrantica I can see that the Jade is more rosy, and although it contains galbanum and bergamot, what you get most strongly at first is rose, cardamom, and cinnamon, as time passes, the tonka in the base is what you smell predominately, although there is also sandalwood, patchouli, amber and vanilla.
Plus Que contains a lot of iris underneath the customary Guerlain yellow bergamot beret, and a big ylang-ylang note. There’s no rose but the perfume’s final smoke plume parallels Black Jade’s, with amber, vanilla, and lots of tonka, the only deviation being the Guerlain vetiver rather than sandalwood and patchouli. In both perfumes it’s the tonka that does most of the off gassing, and a very active tonka it is, dominating the scents’ vapor trail.
The effect in either case, despite the absence of an overt tobacco note, is an evocation of tobacco, along with sugar. It’s a burned sugar, an unctuous candy component, akin to the smell of an old fashioned tobacconist’s shop with a big jar of caramels just out of reach on the counter.
Black Jade probably got off on the wrong foot in the blogosphere, with its twice-told tale of Marie Antoinette, but it’s a seriously good perfume, and wears extremely well. If you like fall bouquets with spicy nicotine-and tonka undertones, you will like Jade. The mellow tobacco flower bouquet really reminds me of big unpainted sheds full of drying tobacco, in barefoot old towns south of the Mason-Dixon, along about August. This is saying something, coming from me, an incurable tobacco hound, result of I don’t know how many generations of Virginians who smoked the stuff, grew the stuff, bought and sold the stuff… you get the idea.
Black Jade smells to me more like summer- late summer- in Virginia than Versailles, but, what the heck, our associations are everything, even if they’re only of kicking cans down abandoned rail lines, and not of dancing minuets down parquet floors.